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27. Interpreting and applying the Bible

Christian theology in a Sudanese context. God's word written down and published.

Hermeneutics is the science that teaches principles, laws and methods of interpretation. Biblical hermeneutics tries to take the student into the time, place and cultural understanding of the forty or so Bible authors. The aim is to discover the mind of God Himself and what He wants us to know and to do today.

Because the Bible was written a long time ago, in a different language and culture to ours, when people had different understandings of the world, we need hermeneutics. How can we understand the Bible correctly? To be able to test what preachers and teachers are telling us, we need good methods of understanding the Bible for ourselves. To be able to preach and teach others, we must correctly explain and interpret the Bible to ourselves first. “The pulpit is not the place to ventilate our own opinions, but to unfold God’s Word”. We are all sinners and our own thoughts are badly affected (2 Corinthians 3:14-18; 2 Corinthians 4:4).

Good interpreting of the Bible involves examining the text itself. Don’t just read commentaries or listen to preachers! What does the Bible actually say itself?Reading more than one translation, or in more than one language, may help here. Next, discover the meaning of the text. What did the writer want his contemporary readers to understand when it came into their hands? What is the most obvious and common sense understanding of it? What do we know from elsewhere in the Bible about the content and context of this passage? If the actual practice described is not relevant today, what principles are found there that may help us understand up to date issues? It is very important to put today’s life alongside the Bible and see what needs to be changed in our lives to make them more Christian. I call this putting God’s word into practice. Having read what the text says, then seen how it fits into to the entire Bible message, we must bring our lives into line with what God wants. We put our lives under God’s authority using the Bible like this.

Cultural transposition concludes ‘this is what God was saying then, and this is how it applies today’. Interpreting the Bible in this way removes the clothing of the ancient text and dresses it with modern life, but it does not change the living text at all. We can discover and apply biblical truth, without necessarily using biblical terms. All of our Bible reading should be with the aim of meeting the eternal God whose speaking it is, in a fresh new way. The principles He has given are universal and timeless even as our practices will vary from place to place and year on year. These twelve helpful guides are good to follow when you study your Bible: 1. Prayerfully seek the help of God the Holy Spirit. 2. Generally take the words to mean their usual, everyday meaning. 3. See if the surrounding context requires a different meaning, or confirms the usual one. 4. Keep the whole of the Bible in your mind to let it guide your understanding. 5. Leave debatable issues until you have a good grasp of the essentials! 6. Remember the original readers and what it all meant to them. 7. Begin with the easier to read passages, like the Gospel stories. 8. Move from the known to the unknown, as one passage explains another. For example: discover what Acts says about Ephesus while you read Ephesians. 9. Enjoy biblical imagery. It makes the Bible sparkle. Word pictures are to make you think. 10. Be aware of differences between short term and long term prophecies. Some have

been fulfilled while others have not. 11. Get the big picture first. Read whole letters or historical narratives, noting issues to

return to for study later.

12. Recognise your limitations. God’s ways are beyond full finding out (Isaiah 55:8-11).

None of us will ever ‘know it all’!

The Bible is one book and yet it is made up of sixty-six. The Bible may be said to have one ‘Author’ over its many writers. The Bible has one theme running throughout all of its many events. Context, style, purpose, and actual words used, must all be carefully thought about while reading in a particular chapter. God the Holy Spirit can

be trusted to make our study effective as we do our hard work (2 Timothy 1:6,7; 2 Timothy 2:15; 2 Timothy 3:16,17). Meaningful obedience comes from applying the Bible to today.

Thinking it through.

(a). Why is it necessary to follow rules for reading, understanding and applying the Bible?

(b). Why is it necessary to ‘get the big picture first’, and see where an individual verse, or

story, or Bible book, fits into the whole Bible?

(c). Discuss the twelve guidelines given towards the end of this chapter twenty-seven.

Which are the most important for you at this time? Why?


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